Colin James With Ally Venable review – September 30, 2022

Thankfully I have resigned myself to the fact I will never play guitar like the two who took the stage tonight. Otherwise it would be a long arduous fruitless journey. Luckily I can still enjoy the hell out of watching the mastery.

Walking into the Queen Elizabeth Theatre as a 30 year old, I became something of a rarity. It was very much a silver haired crowd that had undoubtedly been a fan since Colin James’ early days. It may have seemed like a tamed crowd looking around the lobby, but they were primed to groove. By the time 7:30 came around most of the crowd was already there, ready in wait for Ally Venable to open the show.

Introducing Ally Venable

At 7:30pm, the Texan, Ally Venable, who’d never been to Canada, took the stage. She came on, rocking a sparkly eye-catcher of a dress, to which she later said in the set “I wanted to look like a disco ball.” Mission accomplished. After she introduced herself and the band, as well as thanking the crowd, she launched intoner first song of the night. It came in the form of “Use Me”, the ninth track off her latest album Heart Of Fire.

I will say right off the bat that I enjoyed the set, but I will also say that the sound engineer was of his or her game tonight. The drums were way too loud. It drowned out Venable for most of the set, particularly her guitar playing. It wasn’t enough to make me not enjoy watching it, and luckily the mix was different for Colin James’. It was really only an issue when they were going full on, in the opening set. But when the band pulled it back a bit, Venable, and by proxy her band were able to show what they were really made of. This was first evident on “Road To Nowhere”.  Venable playing with a deft touch perfectly hitting the harmonics on her pink Gibson Les Paul. Her vocals also cutting through. 

It was the last song though that I truly believe she endeared herself to the crowd at the QET. It was her fifteen minute fully instrumental Tribute To SRV, that won the crowd over. (It wouldn’t be the last time Stevie Ray Vaughn was honoured before the night was over). Fittingly she exchanged her Les Paul for a Fender Stratocaster. The song started slow, drawing everyone in, but before long she had it ramped it up, still managing to keep the feel and soul in every note and finger twisting run. Every time Venable brought it back down it allowed  the crowd to exhale, and to cheer in appreciation. Showing that, yes, she may only be 23, but can certainly roll with the big guns. It may have only been a short 30 minute set but Venable left the stage with an exclamation point. Garnering some new fans, certainly.

As I was waiting in the lobby for Colin James to start a sparkle caught my eye from across the room. It was Ally Venable at her merch table. Signing CD’s and taking pictures. I went up and introduced myself. We had talked on the phone the previous day for an interview, which you can read here. After having interviewed her, and briefly meeting her in person, I can say that she is the type of person you can unequivocally root for to have continued success.

But then it was time for the main attraction…

Colin James Takes The Stage.

The lights dim at 8:31, it’s show time. The band takes the stage, but James isn’t there. It takes about thirty seconds, for, to my left, James to come strolling down the aisle towards the stage. It got the crowd out of their seats. When he got up on stage he exclaimed “We’re finally here!” (The show having been previously set  for earlier in the year, but much like a lot of stuff these days, was postponed). 


It was a trifecta, three songs, three guitars. It would continue this way all night. Rarely did James go two songs in a row with the same guitar. His guitar tech definitely earns his pay check. Waiting just off stage, prepping the next guitar, making sure it’s in tune and ready to go. There was one moment later in the show that the guitar James was supposed to play wasn’t ready. So James just played the one he had on, a pro. He wasn’t going to stop the show because of a guitar. It was one of the few time he didn’t talk to the crowd between songs. 

After a few songs the crowd was settled in. Letting the music wash over them. Cheering at a lick they liked, or at an anecdote James expounded on. One of the times James stopped to talk to the crowd, he couldn’t remember if he’d played the Queen Elizabeth Theatre before. “That’s what happens when you put out twenty records.” Even though he did stop and talk a lot it never slowed the pace down. It was all part of the rhythm. It felt like the natural course. I guess that’s what happens when you’ve been playing as long as he has. He’s a showman, but is not boisterously so. 

The opening stroll down the aisle wasn’t the only time James went off the stage and into the crowd. It happened three more times. Each time drawing the crowd to him. Giving the security guards something to do. 

Speaking about security guards…this is to the crowd. Don’t be dicks. If security tells you to get back, get back. It’s not personal. There was a few times during the show where the same people kept on going right up to the stage from their seats, rows back and filming. Just enjoy the show people. 

Okay, now back to Colin James.

James also hit most of the real estate at the very edge of the stage, even side stepping the monitors at the sides, so that he could get to the very edge, and close to the people there. When he soloed it never felt like he was showing off. He was playing with the song, not over it. They had feel, and it never got boring. 

"...I Wish I haden't worn the shirt."

As one song ended he set up the next song, talking about meeting the legendary Albert King. He’d met who he called a God, in a God awful cow print shirt. He wished he hadn’t worn it. James style clearly has improved over the years. He wore is not quite signature: shirt, vest, jeans, boots combo.

The song of the night for the crowd had to’ve been “Five Long Years.” That got the crowd up and dancing. At that moment, the woman two rows in front of me might just have been the happiest person in the world. She belted it out heartfully to the man next to her. That might’ve been the pinnacle moment for her, who was clearly having the time of her life, all night long. 

After “Five Long Years” James gave what I would say was his strongest overall performance of the night. Especially his vocals. It was on “Why’d You Lie?” After he finished it was clear I wasn’t the only one who though so. It garnered what I’d say was the biggest applause for a song of the night. The crowd felt every syllable and note. 

In-between songs James stopped to take a moment to recognize Truth and Reconciliation Day. The crowd itself dotted with people wearing orange. He talked about his stepfather, who’s Cree, and was thankful that he was just able to play with him whilst playing in Victoria. It wasn’t a long or heavy moment. It was just right for the setting. 

"His spirit lives on in all of us."

You’ll be heard pressed to find a blues musician that wasn’t influenced greatly by Stevie Ray Vaughn. Maybe those who SRV himself looked up to. Colin knew and played with Vaughn and stopped to quickly talk about the influence he had on him. He then launched into SRV’s song “Change It.”

As the “last” song of the night was played, complete with air drums by the same woman mentioned earlier, the crowd got to its feet and gave thanks to the man they came to see. As the song came to a roaring conclusion, James and his band exited the stage.

 It was I’d say no more than a minuted before they were back. 

James came out on stage, having exchanged one of his many electrics, to his only acoustic guitar of the night. He covered Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.” It was a great rendition. It was then back to the electric. The second song of the encore brought Ally Venable back out on stage. They played Freddy King’s “Going Down.” The young Venable didn’t look out of place with Colin, who’s been a pro for longer than she’s been alive. They riffed back and forth as James sang the lyrics. At one point Venable was looking at James with a smile that could only be translated into “this is awesome.” After the song ended she gave James a hug and waved goodbye to the crowd. “Young blood right there.” says James to the crowd.

"Hope I play again before 3 years."

It was finally the last song of the night, “Breakin’ Up The House.” The crowd was on their feet boogying. James may be a vet when it comes to his time on stage, but he plays every minute like a kid in a candy store. From beginning to end he’s clearly having a blast. I’d definitely see him again, and recommend others to do so as well.

It’s 10:26 and the show is over. 

Were you there? What did you think?

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